Cooking duck is a trade off. Duck breast is a tender red meat, and I want it cooked to a rosy pink medium. Duck legs are full of tough connective tissue, and should be cooked past well done, until they are tender and shreddable.
This is impossible on a whole duck. When I roast a duck, I aim to cook the legs and crisp up the skin, and live with overcooked breast. This results in a good duck - the duck fat keeps he duck breast moist, even if it is overcooked. But when I want duck perfection, I break the duck down and cook the legs separately from the breast. That lets me cook each properly - long, low and slow for the legs; a quick saute for the breast.
Can I use Sous Vide cooking to improve on perfection? Of course, or we wouldn’t be talking right now.
I start with the legs, cooking them confit style, with an overnight salting and ten hours in the water bath to tenderize. Then I drop the heat to a perfect medium, add the duck breasts, and cook them for two hours. (The legs stay in the water bath, keeping them warm while the breasts finish.) A quick sear in a hot pan gives me crackling duck skin.
And there you have it - perfect Sous Vide duck, two ways.
Though I have to confess, as much as I love duck breast, it pales in comparison to tender shreds of duck leg confit. If you skip the duck breast portion of the recipe and cook extra duck legs, I won’t blame you.
*Special thanks to Maple Leaf Farms for the wonderful duck!*
Recipe: Sous Vide Duck Two Ways - Duck Breast and Duck Leg Confit
- Sous Vide water bath (I use a SousVide Supreme Demi)
- Vacuum sealer
- Large, heavy frypan (I use a Lodge 12 inch cast iron pan)
Duck Leg Confit
- 2 duck legs
- 4 teaspoons kosher salt (2 per duck leg)
- 2 tablespoons duck fat (or substitute butter)
- 2 duck breast halves
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
1. Salt the duck legs
Sprinkle the duck legs with the kosher salt. Refrigerate overnight, or for up to 2 days.
2. Vacuum seal the duck, sous vide the duck legs
The morning of cooking, score the skin on the duck breast halves in a diamond pattern and sprinkle the breasts with the kosher salt, then put them in a quart vacuum bag. Take the duck legs out of the refrigerator and put in a quart vacuum bag with the duck fat. Vacuum seal the bags, then put the bag of duck breast in the refrigerator. Cook the bag of duck legs sous vide at 167°F/75°C for 8 to 10 hours.
3. Cook the duck breasts sous vide
Turn the sous vide down to 135°F/57°C - I add a couple of cups of ice to cool down the water quickly - then add the bag of duck breasts. Cook the duck breasts for 2 hours.
4. Sear the duck
Cut open the vacuum bags and remove the duck, then pat the meat dry with paper towels and discard the liquid. Pat the duck dry with paper towels. Heat the heavy frypan over medium-high heat until it is ripping hot. Put the duck skin side down in the pan and sear until the skin is crisp and brown, about 3 minutes. Remove the duck from the pan and serve.
- Now all I need are some duck eggs to poach sous vide, and I can try duck three ways!
- The liquid in the sous vide bags is mostly duck fat. Instead of discarding the fat, pour a couple tablespoons into a fry pan and use it to make duck fat potatoes. (Yes, I have a duck fat potato obsession.)
- The first time I had duck confit was at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Napa Valley. Techncially, I didn’t have it, my wife did, on top of a frisee salad. She was kind enough to let me try it…and then had to fend me off as I kept trying to sneak more of the duck leg. Now I always want to serve duck confit on top of a salad.
This recipe was inspired by:
- PolyScience: Sous Vide Confit of Duck Leg
- SousVide Supreme: Bill the Butcher’s Sous Vide Duck Confit
- Kenji Alt at SeriousEats.com: Sous Vide 101 - Duck Breast
- Maple Leaf Farms
What do you think?
Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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